Balley Shoes and the Nutcracker
I sat down to work this morning and put a compilation on the Mp3 player of Christmas music that I’d created last year. One of the first section on the play list is The Nutcracker suite by Tchaikovsky.
I started feeling nostalgic as I remembered taking my little niece, who is now a beautiful 23-year-old woman, to the ballet when she was around 5 or so. My sister, her then-husband, my husband and I took her to the ballet. We were in some auditorium somewhere and it was an amateur production. We got a fit of the giggles when the scene shifted into the dream sequence and the dancers moved Clara’s bed around the stage, carrying what was supposed to be Christmas tree but what looked like big stalks of broccoli. My niece was bored and squirmed a lot, although she liked the beginning with the party sequence. I think she fell asleep halfway through.
It was my husband’s first and only experience of the ballet, and it was not the best first experience. I have a very close friend who was a dance teacher, and she and I used to go once a year into Lincoln Center in New York City and watch the New York State ballet. Swan Lake is my favorite, but I also loved the Alvin Ailey troop, which I have seen many times. Now that would have been a good first live dance performance experience!
My First Ballet: the Nutcracker
I think back to my first time at the ballet. My sister and her husband were friends with a couple whose daughter was a professional ballerina.
Her name was Shari, and I was in awe of her. We drove to New Jersey to see the production of the Nutcracker; Shari danced either the roles of the Dew Drop Fairy or the Sugar Plum Fairy, depending upon the evening. I was about 8 years old, maybe 9. I was so excited. We went to Shari’s house to visit with her parents, who I liked a lot. Shari was already at the theater. I asked to use their bathroom and Mrs. N showed me the bathroom on the second floor of the house. She left me alone upstairs, and on my way to rejoin everyone in the living room, I peeked into Shari’s bedroom. Ballet clothes were strewn all about the room, and laundry tumbled off the practice barre in the corner of her bedroom.
Shari’s Pointe Shoes
But it was her ballet shoes and the Nutcracker that I remember best. There were pink pointe shoes with holes worn in them next to the bed. It was at that moment, as I stood in the semi-darkness staring into Shari’s room, that I felt as if I had a secret. A magical secret. I looked at the holes in the shoes and I realized, with sudden recognition, that she had actually danced right through them.
Ballet shoes and the Nutcracker, and I was standing right there!
All through the magnificent performance, as I waited for Shari to dance her part, I felt like I had a delicious secret. When she finally danced, all I could do was stare at her pointe shoes. The ones she wore during the production were brand new.
I thought of the ones with holes in them by the bed. When I finally met Shari after the performance, I blurted out, “How did your shoes get holes in them?” which must have seemed like a really weird question to her!
She explained that ballerinas go through many pairs of pointe shoes and that they wear holes right through them. I couldn’t believe it!
We are all grown-ups now; yet somehow, the magic of having a secret has stayed with me, the peeking behind the curtain to notice something no one else knows or notices. It is part and parcel of being a writer, and part of why I tend to notice all sorts of peculiar details that escape others. To this day, whenever I hear the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I don’t think of the ballet itself, but a pair of pink pointe shoes with holes danced right through them strewn on a messy bedroom floor.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.